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Veteran-owned coffee stand brews up business amid pandemic

Veteran-owned coffee stand brews up business amid pandemic

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HANFORD — Getting a good cup of joe during a pandemic is hard, running a new business during one is even harder, but one local bike-powered coffee shop is providing caffeine and thriving.

Down Range Coffee, run by Shawn and Seanaci Burks out of Lemoore, is celebrating its first year in business on Oct. 19, and the couple said with adjustments to the business model, it’s “never been as alive as it is now.”

Shawn said after pitching a number of million-dollar ideas to Seanaci, she agreed that a mobile, specialty coffee cart that also sold home-made baked goods was a good business. After the singular coffee shop in downtown Lemoore closed, the only coffee in town was provided by big chains, said Allen Fortune, Down Range Coffee’s marketing specialist and customer.

“Our mission from the get-go was ‘create something better than Starbucks,’ especially the drive-thru in Lemoore because everybody gripes about it,” Shawn said. “Honestly, the coffee flavor sets us apart from all the other places, it’s very fresh.”

The cart features freshly and locally roasted coffee and home-baked goods by Seanaci that are made with as many local and organic ingredients as possible, the Burks said.

Before COVID-19 hit and caused closures and event cancelations, Down Range Coffee got most of its businesses providing coffee at local events and setting up in parks.

Now, the business finds most of its customers online, said Fortune, getting orders over Facebook, Instagram or email, which are delivered to customers' doors.

Shawn and Seanaci said they’ve had a lot of support from the community and have learned to be more flexible while also putting reasonable limits on requests. Even at their first event, at their son’s elementary school, community members were helping them make connections to grow the business, they said.

“It really is exciting and it’s rewarding and we’ve made connections with our customers,” Seanaci said. “A lot of them have turned into friends and it’s been very rewarding.”

Being a military family has also specially positioned Down Range to cater to the families in and around Lemoore, Fortune said. Shawn served five years in the Marine Corps after 9/11 and now works as a meteorologist at the Lemoore Naval Air Station, he said.

“Being a veteran-run business, you’re sensitive to the families who have people out on (deployment),” Fortune said. “There is something that resonates when you’re dropping off to a mom with three kids who’s husband is out on the boat and you can look in their eyes and say ‘hey look, you could probably need another nitro, let’s hook you up’.”

The Burks said now that the businesses is succeeding, largely in thanks to the community, they are focusing on giving back by local law enforcement, firefighters, schools and more. They even make special arrangements with families to deliver during their outings to make getting their coffee more convenient for busy parents.

“Our mission statement kind of changed, Shawn said. “Now it’s leaning towards ‘wow, we’re doing well because of the community, let’s give back now’. It’s never been as alive as it is now.”

Shawn and Seanaci said the future of the business is still unclear, but they hope to expand and hopefully someday open a drive-thru location, employing other veterans and their families. Seanaci said their young sons have even talked about taking the business over someday. 

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